To wear or not to wear: clothing for travel
I’ve heard some travelers say, I can dress any way I want and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” Is that true?
Unfortunately for them, it’s not true. In fact, the wrong clothing can stop your trip before it gets started, keep you out of popular travel sites, receive mediocre service, endanger your health and even target you for theft.
Particularly when traveling internationally, what you wear can make you stick out in a crowd as the tourist you are, marking you for pickpockets and slash and grab thieves. It can bring you unwanted attention by street vendors and keep you out of religious sites, restaurants and other locations according to the country or region you’re visiting.
When choosing travel clothing, it’s important to take into account issues of health, safety, comfort, respect, dress codes and culture.
The Southwest Airlines’ “fashion police” reputation is well earned, but they aren’t alone among airlines throughout the world. Micro-skirts, revealing shirts and hats or shirts with political messages or poor language can result in an ultimatum to change your clothes or be denied boarding your flight.
Show empathy for your fellow cabin mates when you fly. Don’t douse yourself in cologne or perfume. Take care of your personal hygiene prior to flying and wear freshly laundered clothing. Don’t forget deodorant.
When flying, avoid restrictive clothing, including skinny jeans. Especially on long flights, they can exacerbate DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) problems. Consider wearing a pair of compression socks on long flights. Research shows they can significantly reduce the risk of DVT. Flip-flops, sandals and heels should be packed while aloft. In the event of an emergency, they will not protect you from cabin debris and are awful when sliding down an emergency chute. I recommend long pants made from natural fibers or blends, for everyone. In case of fire, they’re far safer than synthetics. Personal experience tells me they’ll protect you from “chute burn” in an evacuation.
Dress codes and culture:
These days, much of the world dresses more casually than ever before, nowhere more than in the U.S., but there are limits, particularly at specific destinations. Outside of the U.S., shorts and sneakers can be a real problem, as well as revealing clothing, especially if prone to “wardrobe malfunctions.”
For example, “modesty” in clothing is very important in the Middle East, as well as at religious institutions everywhere. At the Vatican, for example, low cut or sleeveless clothing, shorts, miniskirts and hats aren’t permitted. In some religious locations head coverings are required for women and sometimes even men.
Safety and health:
While away from home, when out and about, an important rule of thumb is to blend in as much as possible. Don’t wear clothing that screams tourist. That can put you at risk as a crime victim from pickpockets or more aggressive, more violent thieves. While “doing your own thing” may work at home, it’s not a good idea while traveling, particularly in a foreign country.
Forget sweats and activewear while traveling. Don’t wear loud colors. Forget sneakers for daily wear, especially the super colorful, neon ones. I’ve never seen locals in Europe or Asia wear them walking around cities and major historic and cultural areas.
Clothing of reasonable quality and modest appearance always works when traveling. Forget clothing with flags, political or off-color statements. You don’t know how locals will react. Comfortable pants, travel jeans (no holes and slits), skirts and shirts with sleeves are the way to go. Wear layers for changeable or cold weather.
Comfortable, durable walking shoes are a must, as you’ll likely be on your feet a lot. Don’t wear flip-flops or sandals. They’ll make your feet vulnerable to cuts and insect bites, plus your feet will pick up street dirt. Athletic shoe manufacturers make some great low-key walking shoes. Mine are all black and have Goretex uppers in case of inclement weather. I always bring a pair of regular shoes for evenings, as more than a few locations require them. Wickable comfortable socks are important to prevent blisters. Don’t wear cotton socks. Once they get wet from perspiration, they stay wet.
Especially in summer, hats are a great idea for superior sunburn protection. From the U.S.? Leave your baseball cap at home. It screams American tourist and leaves much of your head and ears unprotected. I wear a light weight UV protective, wide brimmed hat.
If you have expensive jewelry, leave it at home. Nothing screams “target” more than obviously expensive jewelry.
For men and women, please, no fanny packs. They scream tourist and are vulnerable to thieves. No big handbags for women either. They are far too easy for pickpockets. A good, not oversized day pack or sling bag works great. Don’t get one with a big name or famous logo displayed on it. They’ll draw attention to you.
Make your choices wisely:
What you wear can make a difference while you travel, and not just in a negative way. While poor choices can make you susceptible to crime and potential health problems, I’ve consistently found that good clothing choices can keep you comfortable, fit in with locals and lead to friendlier, superior treatment and service.
(Image: The Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis in Athens Greece. Copyright © 2019 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.)
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.